Okay, let’s go.
Pikipek and Trumbeak are woodpeckers, one of the broad classes of bird that Pokémon hadn’t previously gotten around to making an early-game Normal/Flying-type out of. Let’s run through the checklist… Pidgey’s a waxwing, Hoothoot’s an owl, Taillow’s a swallow, Starly’s a starling, Pidove’s a pigeon, Fletchling’s a robin, and Spearow’s not a sparrow. With the exception of Hoothoot and Pidove, they’re all based – more or less loosely – on members of the songbird family (or, well, technically they’re a sub-order or something, but who’s counting?), and most of them gain more raptor-like traits as they evolve. Which… y’know… is fine; that reflects the huge diversity of the real songbirds, but it would be nicer if they weren’t all (with the exception of Hoothoot) Normal/Flying-types with fairly generic powers and a bias towards speed and physical attacks. Fletchinder and Talonflame took some fairly drastic steps to address that long-standing sameness by picking up fire powers and an interesting arrow motif, and Toucannon also makes an effort to cultivate a distinct fighting style, which we’ll talk about later, but it’s already a nice starting point that we’re looking at a bird with a unique lifestyle and distinctive physical attributes that both play into the design of the Pokémon. Like a real woodpecker, Pikipek’s gimmick is the ability to “drill” holes in trees with his beak using a sort of jackhammer action. The 16 pecks per second rate quoted by the Pokédex for Pikipek is, weirdly, not even all that impressive for a woodpecker. Real ones, the internet assures me, can hit up to 20 pecks per second, though only in short bursts, so as not to shatter their tiny bird skulls. The resulting holes can be used as nests or food storage areas. Real woodpeckers, in addition to these functions, also drill holes to get at insects crawling beneath the tree bark, which oddly doesn’t seem to be an explicit part of Pikipek’s design; official sources only have Pikipek and Trumbeak eating berries. Of course, you might eat a lot of fruit too, if you could store the seeds as ammunition and fire them at enemies like a machine gun, as these Pokémon can. Pikipek’s pecks also serve a more subtle purpose – communication. We’re told that certain pecking rhythms can be used to call out to other Pikipek or warn them of danger, thus making Pikipek the closest thing the Pokémon world has to a system of Morse code.
Pikipek and Trumbeak could be loosely based on any of several species of North American woodpecker with black and white plumage and red crests; the pileated woodpecker is the largest and most iconic of these, and one of the most common. Toucannon is pretty clearly a toco toucan, likewise the largest and most iconic member of the toucan family (if you didn’t know there were different species of toucan, this is probably the one you were thinking of), which is native to Brazil. That in itself deserves some comment: it’s odd that Game Freak didn’t choose Hawaiian birds to fill the requisite early-game generic Normal/Flying-type “slot.” Many other Alolan Pokémon are designed in reference to the unique wildlife of Hawai’i, and the islands would have provided a wide variety of interesting and colourful songbirds to any designer who felt so inclined. Neither woodpeckers nor toucans, of any species, are endemic to Hawai’i at all (notwithstanding the ‘akiapola’au, a species of honeycreeper which is sometimes known as the “Hawaiian woodpecker” but has more in common with Oricorio than Pikipek). I’m inclined to think that Game Freak may have been sitting on Pikipek’s design, or something like it, for a while, perhaps since before they decided to set a game in a Hawai’i analogue (this would imply that they may have several of these godawful Normal/Flying generic bird Pokémon saved up, just waiting for the right excuse to deploy them, which may be my most depressing realisation of the entire week). Having said that, expecting them to make literally every Pokémon in Alola a reference to Hawaiian wildlife would be a bit of a stringent requirement, which I would never have demanded from Unova or Kalos, and a toucan Pokémon at least fits the “tropical” theme of the region well enough.
A woodpecker evolving into a toucan makes more sense than you might at first realise, since the toucan family, the Rhamphastidae, are some of the closest relatives of the woodpecker family, the Picidae. Both are known for their beaks, so there’s a useful thematic similarity there as well. The toco toucan lends Toucannon a nicely distinctive and visually striking appearance, which draws attention to the part of his body associated with his most unique abilities – the toucan’s massive beak, which is the largest and heaviest relative to its body size of any bird in the world. There is a danger here that he winds up being just literally a toco toucan, and there’s not much in his art to stave that off except for a truly masterful side-eye, which conveys a level of Skrelp-esque sleep-deprived surliness that no real toucan quite manages. The physical design just isn’t all that imaginative, which has to count as a fairly significant strike against him, even though a toucan is already an interesting animal in its own right (props to Nature and Evolution on that one). Toucannon does twist the function of a toucan’s oversized beak in a fun way, though. People are somewhat split on what a toucan’s beak is actually for. In at least some species, it probably does have display purposes, which was what Darwin thought when he saw toucans in South America, but today we also believe that they play a pretty important role in heat regulation. Toco toucans are quite large birds that live exclusively in tropical climates, so having a huge beak with lots of blood vessels and bright colours that can dump a lot of excess heat quickly is a fairly significant advantage. Toucannon takes this a step further, by dumping that excess heat directly onto his enemies, burning anyone that comes too close during battle and igniting his seed projectiles to create explosive blast attacks. It makes sense, it’s creative, and it’s badass, which is all good news.
Speaking of explosive blast attacks, Toucannon’s unique powers are represented in the game by his Beak Blast signature move. This looks at first like a two-turn move in the vein of Sky Attack or Solarbeam, but actually functions more like Focus Punch, with the “charging” phase happening at the beginning of the turn, before the opponent’s move, followed by the attack firing at the end of the turn, after the opponent’s move. It can’t be interrupted like Focus Punch, and in fact, any enemy who hits Toucannon with a contact move while Beak Blast is charging will suffer a burn. The attack itself does some fairly hefty Flying-type damage too, and Toucannon has an excellent physical attack stat to back it up. So the good news is, you have a very powerful Flying-type move to serve as your primary attack, you can burn enemies insolent enough to attack you (even if the attack actually knocks out Toucannon), and you were probably going to move last anyway against a lot of Pokémon, because Toucannon is pretty slow. The bad news is, Beak Blast is still less powerful than Brave Bird, which Toucannon can get as an egg move, and his defences are decidedly on the average side, so going last does leave you vulnerable. Probably the biggest issue with Beak Blast is that very few of the attacks Toucannon is most afraid of will actually trigger the retributive burn effect. The best Ice and Electric attacks are special, and although Rock primarily has physical attacks, almost none of them actually make contact. Just playing normally against Toucannon will probably be all it takes for most Pokémon to avoid suffering burns from Beak Blast. The fact is, it’s not a great move, but it’s a move with a hell of a lot of personality, and I have to love it for that.
All this being the case, I can see basically two ways you could go with Toucannon. You could dedicate his training to attack and speed, trying to help him outrun as much as his stubby wings will allow, then slap Brave Bird on him and use him as a fairly conventional sledgehammer Pokémon. Toucannon gets the Skill Link ability, which guarantees five hits with moves in the “hits 2-5 times” category and turns the normally unreliable Bullet Seed and Rock Blast into top-notch Grass and Rock attacks with the added perk of being able to pierce Substitutes and the Sturdy ability (Fury Attack is also improved, but is still too weak and too inaccurate to be worth using, which just goes to show how terrible Fury Attack is normally). Sheer Force, Toucannon’s hidden ability, is available as an alternative to Skill Link, but although it’s normally a fantastic ability (giving a +30% damage bonus to moves with a secondary effect, at the cost of removing the effect), Toucannon learns very few moves that benefit from it – pretty much just Steel Wing, so you’d basically be taking the ability just for an edge against Fairy-types. Skill Link is better; Keen Eye is garbage. For a fourth move, you could pick up a Normal attack like Return, but Normal attacks are mostly redundant with Flying in terms of type coverage, and you’ll be leaving Toucannon dead in the water against most Steel-types. Brick Break loses out to Steel Pokémon with a secondary type that resists Fighting, which many of the best ones do (Metagross, Skarmory, Scizor). Your other option is Overheat. Toucannon’s special attack stat is, at best, fine. However, Overheat is extremely powerful, and Toucannon won’t much care about the special attack penalty that the move inflicts on its user. Brick Break is still better against some Steel-types with good special defence, and really does a number on Bisharp, but Overheat is probably a better general-purpose move, and is nicely thematic (bonus style points for using it with a Z-crystal). U-Turn is always a move worth considering, but is probably not great for Toucannon specifically, for much the same reason as Gumshoos – he’s a super-heavy hitter who’s very hard to get into play in the first place, and is better off just bludgeoning enemies into submission than trying to play tricky. The most glaring absence from Toucannon’s movepool here is the absence of Agility – or indeed any way of increasing his decidedly mediocre speed, aside from Flame Charge or Tailwind, which I hesitate to actually recommend. Any kind of sweeping strategy is more or less out of the question; Toucannon is here strictly to blow things up and open the path for an actual sweeper.
The alternative path is to reason that Toucannon isn’t going to outrun much of any importance anyway, just dump his speed completely, and instead try to spec him as a sort of blasty tank, with a bunch of points in HP. Take Beak Blast over Brave Bird, both to spare yourself Brave Bird’s recoil and to cripple physical attackers with burns. Take Roost for healing. Consider Feather Dance, then stop because Feather Dance is silly. Other than the main Flying attack, you probably want to think about most of the same attack options for this Toucannon, since he doesn’t really have a support movepool other than the aforementioned Tailwind (a short-term global speed bonus for your team). Finally, I suppose I should at least mention Swords Dance, because the very notion of a Swords Dance Toucannon is a little bit terrifying, but it’s an iffy proposition for much the same reasons as I hesitated to recommend Swords Dance on Decidueye or Incineroar: he’s just too slow and doesn’t have the bulk or resistances to compensate (Alola seems to really like slow Pokémon for some reason).
All in all, Toucannon is… fine. He’s much more interesting than the typical early-game Normal/Flying fodder, in an apparent continuation of generation VI’s effort to make the “template” Pokémon a bit less repetitive and pointless. His signature move is a cool reinforcement of what his design is about. Talonflame is an extremely hard act to follow as far as the competitive scene goes, and Toucannon is frankly nowhere close, but at least he diverges from the battle style of most of the early-game bird Pokémon. He’s not directly overshadowed by Talonflame in quite the same way as Gumshoos is by Diggersby (instead he gets to be overshadowed by Braviary, of all things, who’s tougher and faster, but has an arguably worse movepool thanks to Toucannon’s Skill Link goodies). So, I mean… I guess he exceeds the low expectations I have for a Pokémon in his position. Don’t get too cocky, Game Freak.